A local aviation enthusiasts organization is offering Collier County youth an extraordinary learning opportunity at the Naples Airport.

Twenty-one youngsters, ages 10 through 17, are building an airplane under the guidance of volunteer mentors from EAA Chapter 1067.

Members of the 25-year old chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association are responding to the aviation industry’s critical shortage of pilots and technicians while also giving Naples’ young people an unprecedented head start on their future aspirations.

“Our chapter has been offering free flights for kids at our monthly Young Eagle Flight Rallies for years,’’ says Joan Zaleski, chapter President. “We meet so many youngsters with a real passion for aviation but with no opportunity to pursue their interest. We decided to find a way to give these kids real hands-on experience in the world of aviation, keep fueling their interest, and show them the many career opportunities that lie ahead for them if they apply themselves.”

The group estimates the project will take 18-24 months to complete. Since starting in early June, working four mornings a week, the ambitious youngsters have completed all of the tail sections, flaps, ailerons, wing ribs and much of the fuselage. Tool use, reading plans, metrics, and aerodynamics are just some of the skills and knowledge being gained throughout the process.

Patience, planning and teamwork are also emphasized. “Seeing these kids work together and help each other out has been great fun”, adds Zaleski. “These boys and girls, all different ages from all different schools and neighborhoods, sharing this common interest in aviation, have come together and formed an extraordinary team. Together they are building a real airplane that they will all eventually fly. How great is that?”

Plans for the Naples Youth Aviation Project started late last year and it was met with enthusiastic approval by the airport management who arranged for an appropriate hangar space at a reduced rate. Chapter members stepped up with donations of tools, time and cash.

The Sling Pilot Academy in Torrance, California agreed to sponsor the youth project with a rebate upon completion of the Sling 2 aircraft kit. Members and sponsors have already contributed half of the $100,000 cost of the project, but funds are still needed to purchase the engine and avionics.

The NYAP story does not end with the completion of the airplane. After the required test flights, each of the young builders will have the opportunity to fly the airplane. The airplane will then be sold.

Proceeds from that sale will be used to purchase another kit and the process will begin again with a new group of future aviators, making the project financially self-sustaining.

“These kids are awesome, and many of them will be mentoring the next group,’’ adds Zaleski.

Excess funds from the sale, which are expected, will be used to establish a scholarship fund. Naples Youth Aviation Project, Inc. is a Florida 501(c)(3) corporation. Tax-deductible donations are appreciated. See available sponsorships at their website, Mailing address is c/o EAA Chapter 1067 Naples, Inc., 160 Aviation Drive North, Naples, FL 34104.

Email at Follow their progress on Facebook and Instagram.

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